The old saga of ball tampering has reared its head once again after Bob Willis suggested England might be tampering with the ball. AB de Villiers, however, has suggested that every team in the world tries to get the ball to reverse, legally or otherwise. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
Every so often in cricket, the discussion of ball tampering, or let’s call it, altering the state of the ball for the sake of this piece, raises its head. When the ball was changed for the Champions Trophy match between England and Sri Lanka at the Oval, that discussion stirred up again. It started with Bob Willis, an anchor in studio for the host broadcaster, claiming that somebody in the England side was scratching the ball.
“Let’s not beat about the bush – Aleem Dar is on England’s case. He knows that one individual is scratching the ball for England – who I am not going to name – and that’s why the ball was changed,” Willis said on air.
It is unusual for a ball to be changed without the fielding side complaining about it. There were no complaints when the decision was made and Alastair Cook looked visibly irked by the umpires’ decision and Willis noted all of this on air.
“Have you ever heard about the batting side or the umpire complaining about the shape of the ball? How naive does Alastair Cook think we are? He didn’t want the ball changed. So why was it changed?” Willis asked.
There are, of course, legal ways to alter the state of the ball. To rough it up and aid early reverse swing. There is nothing wrong with that. Almost every team tries it – that’s been admitted by many captains. But when the line is crossed in such emphatic fashion like say, for instance, biting the cricket ball, investigations are often taken further.
When there is a suggestion of altering the state of the ball, the opposing side will lodge a complaint to the match referee. The ball will be collected and sent away to a secret lab far, far away and tests will be carried out on it to see whether anything dodgy was done to it.
England’s pace ace James Anderson has already hit back at Willis’ comments, proclaiming England’s innocence.
“The fact is people can think what they like. We know the truth, I can state categorically that no one in the England team has ever tampered with a ball and we won’t allow comments made by someone like Bob Willis to worry us,” Anderson told The Mail on Sunday.
England, however, are no strangers to accusations of fiddling with the ball. During their tour of South Africa in 2010, Stuart Broad was caught standing on the ball by TV cameras. James Anderson was seen picking at the ball and the footage was played on TV over and over again. Broad suggested it was simply laziness, down to the blazing heat of the Cape Town sun, which led him to stop the ball. While concerns were raised about the footage, nothing ever came from it. South Africa reported it to the match referee and “left it to him to decide if any further action or investigation is necessary.”
Officials decided no further investigation was needed and that was the end of that. So it goes, sometimes, players pick and prod and a lot of it is done legally, but it’s not very often that something actually comes from the investigation. Because, unless there is hard evidence caught on camera, it’s hard to prove. But that doesn’t stop players from being accused.
There are a lot of so-called “legal” ways to rough up the one side of the ball in order to aid reverse swing. Cross-seam bowling starts the process while throwing the ball across the square to the wicket keeper also helps rough it up. All teams do it, or at least, they try.
Ravi Bopara is another player who has been accused of doing funny things with cricket balls. During a club match in New Zealand back in 2009, Dermot Reeve accused him of tampering. The umpires could do nothing. The umpires said that unless somebody is seen putting their nails into a ball, there is no way to prove anything. Reeve insisted that he was watching Bopara and saw him dig his nails into the ball. Bopara refuted his claims.
“Reeve must be going mad. Nothing untoward took place either from me or from any of our other bowlers. All that happened was that it was a windy day and we managed to get the ball to swing against the wind. Reeve couldn’t work out how we got the ball to swing in those conditions so, without checking the facts, he accused me [of ball-tampering],” said Bopara.
Bopara’s comments are rather familiar to what a few of the captains who played against England have said. Nobody can quite work out how they’re getting the ball to reverse so quickly, when some sides can hardly get the ball to reverse at all.
“It was good skill that. What I sort of felt was it went like from swinging conventionally to swinging reverse within an over or two. No doubt they have worked on it a little bit,” Bailey said after Australia’s loss to England in Birmingham.
It would be foolish and irresponsible to read into Bailey’s comments too much or even to suggest that the Australian skipper is leading onto something more sinister, but he does raise a valid point: how are England getting the ball to reverse so quickly?
England’s opposition for the Champions Trophy semi-final raised the same point. AB De Villiers was very diplomatic when he was asked about the situation.
“They seem to get it to reverse a bit quicker than the rest of the teams. We don’t know how they’re managing it or whether they’re doing it legally. We’ve tried everything but we haven’t managed it and other teams have tried it but haven’t managed it. But then again, they know their conditions really well and maybe they know something we don’t know,” De Villiers said.
While there is currently no evidence to suggest that England – or any other team for that matter – are up to no good, the South African skipper insists that it’s up to the ICC to deal with the matter.
“If they are doing something funny with the ball, then it’s definitely a concern, yes, but we have no proof of that. The umpires and the ICC would probably look into why England and some of the other teams might get it to reverse quicker,” De Villiers added. DM
Photo: England’s captain Alastair Cook looks on from the dressing room balcony as rain delayed the ICC Champions Trophy group A match against New Zealand at Cardiff Wales Stadium, Wales June 16, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown
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